Saturday, July 12, 2014


Friday, July 11, 2014

Marvels: Strange Tales #115

"The Sandman Strikes!" by Stan Lee & Dick Ayers
(December 1963)

The Sandman was a formidable and deadly villain in his first appearance, one of those perfect, nigh-unbeatable foes for Spider-Man. It was an epic clash of might and will.

And then Spidey sucked him up into an industrial shop vac.

At the beginning of this story, we learn how the Sandman made his daring escape from prison: the police put him in a regular cell and he simply turned to sand and trickled through the barred window and down the side of the building and walked away.

Maybe it's time for the criminal justice system of the Marvel Universe to invest in some new technology for keeping super-powered criminals incarcerated.

Anyway, Mr. Fantastic wants Johnny to go and find Spider-Man, because Spidey's experience can be of help here. Johnny, of course, is offended at the very notion, and hauls off to find the Sandman himself. When he does, the Sandman actually refuses to fight some kid. (Imagine how he'll feel if he ever discovers Spidey himself is a teenager!) "You may scare the bejabbers out of small time punks and juvenile delinquents, but you're out of your league this time!" Not taken into consideration: this kid has actually defeated the Sub-Mariner and fought Doctor Doom.

Like any kid that gets condescended to, Johnny is angry. So angry that he somehow gets his hands on a Spider-Man costume and pretends to be Spider-Man in order to draw the Sandman out. The two end up fighting inside an office building, where Johnny manages to forget that such things as emergency sprinklers exist.

Still, not as bad as that one time...

Now Johnny can't use his flame, but he manages to defeat the Sandman easily because the Thing taught him all about street fighting, Mr. Fantastic taught him judo and karate, and apparently there's still enough heat in Johnny's body to more than double his strength, an ability we've never seen before and will never see again.

So Johnny grabs the Sandman, spins him around until he's dizzy and off-balance, and then just punches him out. The guy who made his jaw so hard that Spider-Man nearly broke his hand giving him one on the chin. Now, I'd start in with the digs about how Sandman can just turn into sand, but he's soaked through because of the emergency sprinklers. But he can apparently still increase his mass to the fullest, so... yeah.

Sure, why not?

Stray notes:

:: That artwork up top works if you read it in a Popeye voice, but it's funnier if you read it in a Roscoe P. Coltrane voice.

:: The Human Torch says "Hot ziggety!" He also calls Sandman a "mugwump." It's all legitimate slang, but is it legitimate 1963 slang for teenagers? I feel like it's late forties/early fifties slang, but I'm just basing that off of old records and Archie comics. Stan is 41 years old at the time he wrote this, so I wonder if he's using slang from his younger days.

:: "Here I am, boss-man! No applause, please--it embarrasses me!" Johnny is at his most obnoxiously self-confident in this issue. But the dialogue is all really snappy. It's kind of a lesser-tier, low stakes story, but it's fun to read and extremely well-paced. "Set your mind at ease, big daddy! Whatever your caper is, I'll still wrap it up in time to date some lucky chick tonight!" Lousy beatnik.

:: Dick Ayers' artwork is fantastic, as usual.

I really like it when artists give the Human Torch facial expressions. Some artists just have the flames obscure his face, but this is a great expressive moment.

:: The final panel shows Spider-Man watching from the shadows as the guy who can turn his entire body to sand is led away in handcuffs. Get a plastic box or something, guys. Spider-Man wonders how long it will be before this town is too small for both Spider-Man and the Human Torch. Hey, kids: can't we just be glad the bad guy was arrested?

:: The text story this issue, "Zero of Time," features Father Time. No word on whether or not this is the actual Elder of the Universe.

On to our next story...

"The Origin of Dr. Strange" by Stan Lee & Steve Ditko

In response to "an avalanche of requests," this month's Dr. Strange story goes three extra pages in order to bring us the origin of the Master of Black Magic, as he's still being billed.

Stephen Strange was a skilled, masterful surgeon who was vain and haughty, only working for money, not interested in his patients or in medical research, until a car crash injured the nerves in his hands so severely that he could no longer perform operations. After wandering the streets, destitute and self-pitying, he overhears sailors talking about the Ancient One, a magician in India who can cure anything.

The Ancient One is also uninterested in charity.

I like the Ancient One. He's a harsh teacher, but he's also kind of wry. Strange asks is the Ancient One has made the snows so bad that Strange can't leave, but dismisses the existence of magic. The Ancient One notes "You must not allow yourself to believe in magic. It would be... unseemly." He is trying to find a worthy successor to hold the forces of darkness at bay.

Strange is to stay and learn the ways of magic. The Ancient One has another pupil already: Mordo. And, in short order, Strange stumbles on Mordo's plot to murder the Ancient One. Dr. Strange plans to warn the Ancient One, but Mordo curses him, making him unable to ever speak his plans.

It's then that Strange makes his decision: he cannot warn the Ancient One, but he can stay and learn the mystic arts so that he can foil Mordo's plans and protect his intended victim. And with that decision, he finally becomes worthy of the Ancient One's help, his disciple in the fight for good, and is released from Mordo's curse. By the Ancient One. Because of course the Ancient One knows about Mordo's plot. Because he's the Ancient One.

I mean, come on.

Stray notes:

:: "India, land of mystic enchantment..." That Orientalist tradition is strong in these earlier stories.

:: The Ancient One is attacked by the Vapors of Valtorr. It's the first named spell in a Dr. Strange story. Mordo also calls on the powers of Dormammu for the first time.

:: And just for the hell of it, here are some great Steve Ditko expressions:

Next Marvels: the new Iron Man!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

I Hope They Bring Betty Ross Back to the MCU

The Incredible Hulk seems to be the least-regarded of the films that are officially in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Other than a few references here and there, the film seems to have been more or less left behind. And while I guess I'm okay with that cliffhanger about the Leader going unresolved, I'd really like to see Betty Ross come back in the future. I know that lots of people (read: all of Tumblr) are really invested in the "Science Bros" friendship between Tony Stark and Bruce Banner, and that's a cool element that the fans have played up, but I think the relationship between Bruce and Betty is equally important.

But of course I do: I have an anger problem.

I think the Science Bros stuff plays up Bruce's awkwardness and anxiety, but the element I relate to even more has always been Bruce's panic and anger. That's why I've always been so into the Hulk; in too many respects, I am the Hulk. And whatever the faults of Ang Lee's 2003 movie, that was the movie that made me realize what it must be like for other people to live in terror of my volatile anger issues. I came to realize that part of the reason I was so fascinated by the Hulk was that, through him, I could understand what anger does to the people who can't control it. People like my mother, whose volatile anger I lived in terror of as a child.

So I guess I take the Hulk personally. One of my favorite scenes in the MCU is the moment in The Incredible Hulk when the Hulk has Betty in that cave. He rages at the surrounding storm in anger. That's me, or at least it very much used to be: ill-defined, unfiltered, misdirected rage at everything. And Betty soothes him. She calms him with her voice and her presence. That means a lot to me. I want to see more of how Bruce deals with not being able to have a normal relationship with the woman he loves.

In The Avengers, we saw Bruce turn into the Hulk twice. The first time was an uncontrolled panic response to a high pressure situation. The second time was on his own, channeling his omnipresent anger and directing it. The conflict between those two temperaments is compelling. I'd love to see if he can balance that with tentatively approaching Betty again. That kind of thing gives me hope.

I know there's always talk about what else the MCU can do with the Hulk. That seems like an interesting layer to me.

But of course it does: I have an anger problem. And I'm reassured when I see that, when you're making every effort you can to control them, you still get to be loved and supported.

Jerry Nelson Would Have Been 80

Today would have been Muppet performer Jerry Nelson's 80th birthday. I remember being very affected as a kid by Floyd Pepper and his soulful moods. So here are my favorite Floyd performances by he who am, is, are, and be he who is known as the great Jerry Nelson.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Z Is for Zen

I try a little each day. I try to sit and be and listen and breathe and not judge. I bake and I hum and I pet my rabbit and sometimes I cry. But I feel and sometimes I'm aware.

My new therapist made me admit that I'm a person, and that I'm worthy, and it was surprisingly hard to say all of that. My whole being fought against it. Maybe now some of these walls will get torn down and I can start healing from a lot of the damage I've let build up inside of me.

I wanted to end my first round of ABC Wednesday with something hopeful. But I'd rather end it with just one declaration: I am. I exist in the world the same way everyone else does. I have to make room in the world for other people. They have to make room for me too. I know I am a worthy person because I'm kind, caring, and compassionate. I am loved by other people.

Not believing in anything I just sit,
listening to my breathing
After thirty years
It still goes in and out.
-- Albert Coelho

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

Okay, I'm always complaining about how DreamWorks makes these animated movies for kids that deal extensively with midlife crises and fatherhood issues that no kid could care about. But this is actually a great example of how you can touch on issues like parenting and social pressures and fulfillment in a way that (a) doesn't hitting you with an anvil and (b) is used to inform the characters rather than move the plot along. This is, of course, based on the Jay Ward characters from Rocky & Bullwinkle, though it's a great deal more action-packed and alters the characters slightly (in this version, Sherman is Peabody's adopted son). But the wit is, to my surprise, intact. There's a lot of great pun-based and snippy humor that doesn't get too snarky or defeatist; there's a real sense of optimism and, hey, it's nice to see an American movie--especially one for kids--where being smart is a good thing. Above all that, it's just fun. I found myself enjoying this one even more than I enjoyed The Lego Movie, which makes this my favorite animated film this year so far. The opening scenes of this movie would have made the best short animated film of 2014. And then it just continues from there, and it gets better. ****

Fictionalized biopic of Jiro Hirokoshi, the man who designed the Mitsubishi A6M Zero. This is Hayao Miyazaki at his most impressionistic, not really telling a linear story so much as a collection of scenes, some of them emotional, some simply marveling at what human beings have achieved so they can fly. There's a dark undertone to the whole thing; it takes place in the period between the World Wars, and as much as the wind can symbolize hope, it also symbolizes the coming storm, and we're never allowed to forget what these planes are going to be used for. The film addresses that, too. Engrossing, lyrical, bittersweet, a little remote, but beautiful. ****

HELL BABY (2013)
Not exactly a spoof of demonic possession movies; more like a demonic possession movie played for laughs. It's a funny movie, but it's also subject to some of the tiresome tropes of those movies. But I enjoyed it. Not much to say about it, but I thought it was funny. Keegan-Michael Key stole the whole movie for me. Written and directed by Robert Ben Garant & Thomas Lennon. ***

Another great, semi-grossout Mickey Mouse short. I love this one just for having Ludwig Von Drake in it, but the gags--Mickey and Goofy shrink themselves and then get accidentally swallowed by Donald--are fantastic. ****

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Marvels: Journey Into Mystery #99

"The Mysterious Mr. Hyde!" by Stan Lee & Don Heck
(December 1963)

It's alarming how easy it is to piss people off and make them turn supervillain in the Marvel Universe. Take this guy: Calvin Zabo, a scientist who wanted to get a job working for Dr. Donald Blake. Now, Zabo was already a weasel, and he wanted to work for Blake so he could rob him later "at my leisure," but Blake immediately turned Zabo away because he'd been fired a lot and he'd heard "you're no good." Zabo, humiliated, decides he's going to get revenge on Blake for making him feel bad.

So he becomes Mr. Hyde.

That's the terrifying origin story of this month's villain: I'm going to become a rage creature inspired by a Robert Louis Stevenson story because you made me feel bad. It's like Thor's about to get in a fight with an internet message board. Insert whichever one you think is the saddest. I'm sure one just came to mind.

Well, now Calvin Zabo is Mr. Hyde, who has the strength of 12 men, and who can apparently change his shape, even down to his fingerprints. You know where this is going, right? It's bank robbing time.

Meanwhile, Thor is in Asgard, begging Odin yet again to let him marry Jane. Odin is over it. Officially. No Asgardian will marry a mortal. Thor then asks Odin to make Jane immortal, which Odin finds outright offensive. But he's taken aback when Thor raises his hammer to his father in anger, and Odin agrees to listen to Thor's petition once more, if Jane proves worthy of immortality: "noble, unselfish, fearless, and possessing virtues far in excess of those which the ordinary earthbound human possesses." So, we'll see.

The wrinkle Stan Lee adds to this is that Jane is genuinely in love with Dr. Blake. When Mr. Hyde shows up for his revenge, he throws Blake out the window, and in the story's lone suspenseful moment, Blake is only barely able to tap his cane to the side of the building and turn into Thor, surviving the fall. When he returns to the office, Hyde is gone, and Jane is much more worried about Blake's fate than the presence of Thor. So it's an inversion of the earlier situation. Before, Thor was Don Blake's rival for Jane's affections; now, it's the other way around.

Hyde isn't thrilled to hear on the radio that Blake lived. But he still plans on having his revenge.

And then Thor robs a bank.

To be continued!

Other notes:

:: Zabo does indeed site Stevenson as his inspiration for creating a formula that gives him his powers. He also credits his new powers with giving him a "devious, scheming brain," but I don't think he really needed help there.

:: Zabo is also jealous of Blake for having "everything! Wealth, fame, a beautiful nurse!" First off, I just need to add, having someone beautiful work for you is not a status symbol. Let's stop thinking like that. A beautiful assistant is not a job perk you just get to indulge in, she's a person working a job in order to feed herself. But second... wealth? Don Blake has wealth? We've really seen nothing of his home life. We know he's taken seriously as both a doctor and a scientist, and he seems to have no shortage of colleagues who envy him and want to ruin him out of professional jealousy, but is he really a wealthy guy? He should probably have nicer suits, then. I don't know, Blake doesn't have much of a personality other than pining for Jane.

:: Tonight the part of Mr. Hyde will be played by Patrick Troughton.

:: Don Heck's art is being kind of wasted on this series. He's not a fantasy guy, I think, and his vision of Asgard isn't very compelling. I wish he was still doing those neat-o spy-fi Ant-Man comics. We've got to find a better place for him, because he's fantastic.

"Tales of Asgard: Surtur the Fire Demon" by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby

This visually splendorous short tells the story of Odin fighting trolls on his way to battle Surtur, the gigantic king of the fire demons. To hurt Odin, Surtur tries to destroy the Earth--as yet uninhabited--by burrowing into its center, driving out a chunk that becomes the moon. Odin creates the Rainbow Bridge, goes to Earth, and plunges his sword into the planet, drawing "all the electro-magnetic particles of the cosmos" in order to start the planet rotating, which traps Surtur inside, imprisoning him forever. The heat of our planet is really the demon trapped at its core. That's more or less how Carl Sagan explained it on Cosmos, right?

(Alright, just being a wag.)

Once again, beautiful art. Jack Kirby really, really shines in these stories. They're short, but he really gets to play with the scale and the scope in these, and is creating a cosmology that will only grow and grow in the future.

And these always make up for less exciting Thor stories, which is most of them...

Next time: the rivalry between the Human Torch and Spider-Man continues, and the origin of Dr. Strange!

Monday, July 07, 2014

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Song of the Week: "Gossip Folks"

Songs for Becca #16. Another hip hop single from 2003. This was a period when she was really into hip hop. This is Missy Elliott, with another appearance from Mr. Wiggle himself, Ludacris. I still sing bits of the chorus all of a sudden for no reason, which is actually sampled from "Double Dutch Bus." This was a damn good album, too. Anyway, this is a summer of hip hop, apparently. Makes me aware of how much I've neglected the genre since I started posting a Song of the Week. (This is my 402nd week doing this, by the way. Time flies.)